“Covenant”

Worship Script 2


Covenant
Worship Script (2 of 4)

OPENING WORDS

As we gather this morning,

Let us not be half-hearted,

Let us not be half-awake,

Half-in and half-out.

Instead, let us gather whole-heartedly,

With all that we are,

Risking losing our individual selves

For the dream, the practice, and the commitment,

Of the greater good,

That greater union,

Which we dare to call holy.

Let us worship together

 

HYMN #20 Be Thou My Vision

 

 FIRST READING

Mother Earth needs us to keep our covenant. We will do this in courts, we will do this on our radio station, and we will commit to our descendants to work hard to protect this land and water for them. Whether you have feet, wings, fins, or roots, we are all in it together.
Winona LaDuke

 

SECOND READING

To every people the land is given on condition. Perceived or not, there is a Covenant, beyond the constitution, beyond sovereign guarantee, beyond the nation's sweetest dreams of itself. 
Leonard Cohen

 

HYMN #136 Where Gentle Tides Go Rolling By

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

The story for today is the familiar story, The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss.  If you can find a copy, reading it with the pictures is recommended.  Otherwise, here is the text, below.

At the far end of town
where the Grickle-grass grows
and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
and no birds ever sing excepting old crows...
is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.

And deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say,
if you look deep enough you can still see, today,
where the Lorax once stood
just as long as it could
before somebody lifted the Lorax away.

What was the Lorax?
Any why was it there?
And why was it lifted and taken somewhere
from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows?

The old Once-ler still lives here.
Ask him. He knows.
You won't see the Once-ler.
Don't knock at his door.
He stays in his Lerkim on top of his store.
He stays in his Lerkim, cold under the roar,
where he makes his own clothes
out of miff-muffered moof.

And on special dank midnights in August,
he peeks
out of the shutters
and sometimes he speaks
and tells how the Lorax was lifted away.

He'll tell you, perhaps...
if you're willing to pay.

On the end of a rope
he lets down a tin pail
and you have to toss in fifteen cents and a nail
and the shell of a great-great-great-grandfather snail.

Then he pulls up the pail,
makes a most careful count
to see if you've paid him
the proper amount.

Then he hides what you paid him
away in his Snuvv,
his secret strange hole
in his gruvvulous glove.

Then he grunts, I will call you by Whisper-ma-Phone,
for the secrets I tell you are for your ears alone.

SLUPP

Down slupps the Whisper-ma-Phone to your ear
and the old Once-ler's whispers are not very clear,
since they have to come down
through a snergelly hose,
and he sounds
as if he had
smallish bees up his nose.

Now I'll tell you, he says, with his teeth sounding gray,
how the Lorax got lifted and taken away...
It all started way back...
such a long, long time back...

Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space...
one morning, I came to this glorious place.

And I first saw the trees!
The Truffula Trees!
The bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees!
Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.

And under the trees, I saw Brown Bar-ba-loots
frisking about in their Bar-ba-loot suits
as the played in the shade and ate Truffula Fruits.

From the rippulous pond
came the comfortable sound
of the Humming-Fish humming
while splashing around.

But those trees! Those trees!
Those Truffula Trees!

All my life I'd been searching
for trees such as these.
The touch of their tufts
was much softer than silk.
And they had the sweet smell
of fresh butterfly milk.

I felt a great leaping
of joy in my heart.
I knew just what I'd do!
I unloaded my cart.
In no time at all, I had built a small shop.

Then I chopped down a Truffula Tree with one chop.
And with great skillful skill and with great speedy speed,
I took the soft tuft. And I knitted a Thneed!
The instant I'd finished, I heard a ga-Zump!

I looked.

I saw something pop out of the stump
of the tree I'd chopped down. It was sort of a man.
Describe him?...That's hard. I don't know if I can.
He was shortish. And oldish.
And brownish. And mossy.
And he spoke with a voice
that was sharpish and bossy.

Mister! he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.
And I'm asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs--
he was very upset as he shouted and puffed--
What's that THING you've made out of my Truffula tuft?

Look, Lorax, I said. There's no cause for alarm.
I chopped just one tree. I am doing no harm.
I'm being quite useful. This thing is a Thneed.
A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!
It's a shirt. It's a sock. It's a glove. It's a hat.
But it has other uses. Yes, far beyond that.
You can use it for carpets. For pillows! For sheets!
Or curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!


The Lorax said,
Sir! You are crazy with greed.
There is no one on earth
who would buy that fool Thneed!


But the very next minute I proved he was wrong.
For, just at that minute, a chap came along,
and he thought that the Thneed I had knitted was great.
He happily bought it for three ninety-eight.

I laughed at the Lorax, You poor stupid guy!
You never can tell what some people will buy.
I repeat, cried the Lorax,
I speak for the trees!

I'm busy, I told him.
Shut up, if you please.
I rushed 'cross the room, and in no time at all,
built a radio-phone. I put in a quick call.

I called all my brothers and uncles and aunts
and I said, Listen here! Here's a wonderful chance
for the whole Once-ler Family to get mighty rich!
Get over here fast! Take the road to North Nitch.
Turn left at Weehawken. Sharp right at South Stich.

And, in no time at all,
in the factory I built,
the whole Once-ler Family
was working full tilt.
We were all knitting Thneeds
just as busy as bees,
to the sound of the chopping
of Truffula Trees.

Then...

Oh! Baby! Oh!

How my business did grow!

Now, chopping one tree
at a time
was too slow.
So I quickly invented my Super-Axe-Hacker
which whacked off four Truffula Trees at one smacker.

We were making Thneedsfour times as fast as before!
And that Lorax?... He didn't show up any more.
But the next week
he knocked
on my new office door.

He snapped, I'm the Lorax who speaks for the trees
which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please.
But I'm also in charge of the Brown Bar-ba-loots
who played in the shade in their Bar-ba-loot suits
and happily lived, eating Truffula Fruits.

NOW...thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground,
there's not enough Truffula Fruit to go 'round.
And my poor Bar-ba-loots are all getting the crummies
because they have gas, and no food, in their tummies!
They loved living here. But I can't let them stay.
They'll have to find food. And I hope that they may.
Good luck, boys, he cried. And he sent them away.

I, the Once-ler, felt sad
as I watched them all go.

BUT...

business is business!
And business must grow
regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.
I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.

I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering...selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.


Then again he came back! I was fixing some pipes
when that old nuisance Lorax came back with more gripes.
I am the Lorax, he coughed and he whiffed.
He sneezed and he snuffled. He snarggled. He sniffed.
Once-ler! he cried with a cruffulous croak.
Once-ler! You're making such smogulous smoke!
My poor Swomee-Swans...why, they can't sing a note!
No one can sing who has smog in his throat.

And so, said the Lorax,
--please pardon my cough--
they cannot live here.
So I'm sending them off.

Where will they go?...
I don't hopefully know.
They may have to fly for a month...or a year...
To escape from the smog you've smogged-up around here.

What's more, snapped the Lorax. (His dander was up.)
Let me say a few words about Gluppity-Glupp.
Your machinery chugs on, day and night without stop
making Gluppity-Glup. Also Schloppity-Schlopp.
And what do you do with this leftover goo?...
I'll show you. You dirty old Once-ler man, you!

You're glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed!
No more can they hum, for their gills are all gummed.
So I'm sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary.
They'll walk on their fins and get woefully weary
in search of some water that isn't so smeary.

And then I got mad.
I got terribly mad.
I yelled at the Lorax, Now listen here, Dad!
All you do is yap-yap and say, Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!
Well, I have my rights, sir, and I'm telling you
I intend to go on doing just what I do!

And, for your information, you Lorax, I'm figgering
on biggering
and BIGGERING
and BIGGERING
and BIGGERING,
turning MORE Truffula Trees into Thneeds
which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!

And at that very moment, we heard a loud whack!
From outside in the fields came a sickening smack
of an axe on a tree. Then we heard the tree fall.
The very last Truffula Tree of them all!

No more trees. No more Thneeds. No more work to be done.
So, in no time, my uncles and aunts, every one,
all waved me good-bye. They jumped into my cars
and drove away under the smoke-smuggered stars.

Now all that was left 'neath the bad-smelling sky
was my big empty factory...
the Lorax...
and I.

The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance...
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance...
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.

And I'll never forget the grim look on his face
when he heisted himself and took leave of this place,
through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.

And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with one word...
UNLESS.

Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn't guess.
That was long, long ago.
But each day since that day
I've sat here and worried
and worried away.

Through the years, while my buildings
have fallen apart,
I've worried about it
with all of my heart.

But now, says the Once-ler,
Now that you're here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

SO...

Catch! calls the Once-ler.
He lets something fall.
It's a Truffula Seed.
It's the last one of all!

You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.

Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.

 

MEDITATION

God of our hearts,

God beyond final naming

Or final knowing

God who is not the storybook picture

Of a man on a cloud,

But is the breath of life,

and the life within life,

Let us know your presence,

Let us find you, as you find us,

Let us be discovered, whatever our condition.

And let us be held in peace.

In our efforts and our struggles,

Let us trust that a greater life holds us

And let that trust give us courage

To do what we had feared to do,

Toward the service of all the world.

Amen.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

Sermon

Trail Blazers and Covenant Keepers

by Rev. Sue Phillips

As a little girl I ran away from home at least twice every summer, hurling myself out of the house with outrage at childhood oppressions like being left out by my brother and his friends or facing bad sportsmanship during a T-ball game. I’d hastily make a bologna and cheese sandwich, pack a napkin, a baseball and whatever book I was reading, and charge out of the house, full of nine-year-old indignation. My little sister Julie panicked and cried by the front door. I was Never Going Back. Ever.

The problem was I never knew where to go. My little world extended only a few blocks in any direction. Narnia’s secret wardrobe was hidden in a house a world away. The wrinkle in time I dreamed about was equally unreachable, tucked away in the book I loved. Those places weren’t fiction to me. I could have told you all about the path Bilbo had taken from the Shire to Rivendell, but going out my own front door in those steamy Midwestern summers, I didn’t know where to go, much less how to get there.

All I could think to do was run away. When I was a girl, leaving was journey enough to ease my anger and disappointment, and my longing.

Twenty-five years later, when I first walked into a Unitarian Universalist church, I was propelled, like so many others, by longing for a richer, more meaningful life. I had heard that within UUism I might chart my own spiritual course and find my own way on my journey. This promise of freedom appealed to my spiritual pride and isolated independence. I had no way of knowing then what I do now, that the most profound gift of our faith has been not having to chart my own course. Unitarian Universalism has given me a path laid down and blazed by others.

On the treeless granite ledges of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, trail keepers have built stone cairns every ten feet on trails crossing the stark landscape so that hikers can crawl to safety during the area’s notoriously dangerous winter weather. In Spain, wayside crosses mark pilgrim paths. Painted white triangles guide hikers across the long Appalachian Trail. In the dense forests of Eastern Europe, colored stripes signal direction and terrain. In every time and culture, using the tools and materials of the day, trailblazers have marked paths through untraveled territory, leaving behind blazes to signal the way for those who follow.

Every journey (even an anger-fueled childhood escape) begins with a single step. But often times starting is the easy part. Even when we know the horizon we are moving toward, it sure helps to know how to get there. Spiritual journeys, too. As Unitarian Universalists, we may take that first step on our own, but we don’t have to find the way by ourselves. Our ancestors have cut a path and posted blazes on the trail. Their wilderness may have been different, but their hearts were not. We can still find the blazes they left for us, shining and flickering along the path.

The path our ancestors laid for us is covenant.

Covenant is the collection of sacred promises we make to ourselves, to the Holy, and to each other on the journey of a faithful life. It is the explicit declaration of our deepest intentions. As powerful as those promises are, our ancestors knew that covenant is more than a thing, more than a noun. They knew that covenant is also a verb—the process of making, practicing, failing at and re-making those promises.

Our ancestors teach us that religious life thrives at the intersection of self, community and Spirit, and that the beauty and fullness of faithful lives emerge everywhere these dimensions meet and walk together. Covenant is the path along which meaning is discovered, practiced and shared. The rich landscape of covenant helps us understand how to discover, how to practice, and how to share.

If we each walk alone, charting our own course every which way, it is not possible to be religious people. We may be able to practice spirituality by ourselves, but it is by walking with others in service of our highest aspirations that personal spirituality transmutes into religious community. Religion—our religion—requires that we walk with others.

Our trailblazing ancestors teach us that covenant is the way we claim and are claimed by our faith and by the holy. Claiming and being claimed is the heart of covenant. It is the activating impulse that connects our personal commitments in community, drawing individuals together with Spirit to co-create a world of love and justice.

As Unitarian Universalists, we choose to walk together not on command but because we are called to walk a certain path, and because we answer that call. Covenant is both the call and the answer. This is our tradition and our birthright as Unitarian Universalists.

When I first came stumbling into Unitarian Universalism from the spiritual wilderness, I had not yet learned how desperate I was for a well-trodden path. I had no frame of reference for how much the old songs and liturgies could teach me. Covenant was just a flat, vaguely menacing Old Testament word. I did not yet know to look for the blazes our ancestors had lovingly left for me to follow.

As Unitarians and Universalists and Unitarian Universalists, the collective “we” have walked a long path. We have allowed our beliefs to change over the long years according to conscience and science and revelation. We have managed to stay together even as the core Christian story receded into one among many wisdom stories. Our people have integrated the rationality of science, the intuition of Transcendentalism and the ethics of humanism.

Together, we have worked theological miracles. We have managed to stay connected as communities of faith through radical changes in our collective beliefs. Covenant—the shared commitment to and practice of religious community—is how we have stayed together.

And yet, we are a people of competing commitments. The freedom of belief which has helped us remain flexible in light of new revelation and experience has also weakened our binding ties. We value interconnection but are cautious about asking much of each other. As individuals and groups we want to belong, but are reluctant to be claimed. This tension between freedom and connection is also our birthright.

Our collective anxiety about this tension, and the resulting deification of individual conscience, have squashed the rich dimensionality of covenant until it has become synonymous with a vague sense of commitment to a vague set of principles. We have abstractified covenant into spiritual cohabitation, where simply being on a journey together seems to be enough. Covenant lives on as a metaphor for interconnection in our movement, but it is a bird grounded with a broken wing.

The call to covenant is there at the heart of our faith, an echo from our shared past. We sense that deep interconnection, we preach it, and we rely on it. But covenant is more than impulse and echo. It must be activated intentionally for the full power of liberal religion—and a liberal religious life—to be revealed.

The forces of dissolution and disconnection are strong. Our people come to Unitarian Universalism to help navigate and withstand all that alienates us from meaning and connection. Putting covenant back at the center of community life could give us a powerful way to claim and be claimed by community and by all that is holy.

I am always getting lost in the woods. Every time I wander from a path that is literally beaten into the ground by previous feet, I lose my way. This hurts my pride. I’m not a wandering-around sort of person in my “real life.” I need those trails and the trail markers along the way. I know this from getting lost. I also know this from church.

Sometimes we are the trailblazers breaking new ground for people to follow. Sometimes we are the desperate, lost hiker crawling on hands and knees to the next guiding cairn. May we also be the faithful people who learn together how to see the blazes on the path. May we call each other back when we lose our way along the journey. And may we open ourselves up to claiming and being claimed by covenant as we go.

 

HYMN #143 Not in Vain the Distance Beacons

 

BENEDICTION

Let us go heartened

And strengthened

And renewed

With new life.

Let us go bearing the light

Of love,

Which shines through the ages,

And which we carry in our own love.

Go in peace.